Worship as Proclamation: 1 Corinthians 10-11
Friends, here is the last part of the series on worship. The sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 10-11. It develops the idea that worship is, at its core, saying something about God. In fact, it may say more about God than it says about us; although, to be sure, it says something about what we think of God too! Worship seems to be done entirely too flippantly in some cases. While I am not a proponent or ‘fan’ or so-called high church liturgy, I do think there is something to be said about the idea that Christian worship should be significantly holier than it is. People are watching how Christians worship and the question becomes something like this: What are we telling the unbelieving world about Jesus through our worship? This is why worship must, in my judgment, be planned and practiced in such a way that God is honored first and only. I do not believe that worship should be ‘designed’ with the unbeliever exclusively in mind. Worship is ultimately directed to the only one it can be: God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Worship planned, directed, or designed with any other intention or object is idolatry which is nothing less than devil worship. –jerry
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake—the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
While in the early planning stages of this sermon series I came across this article on the internet. It concerns a popular trend that is taking place around the world: Mystery Shopping. The twist, however, is that these mystery shoppers are not targeting your favorite restaurant, but rather churches. Consider:
LONDON – Singing hymns and clasping hands in prayer, they look like regular church-going Christians. But the worshippers at some Sunday services in Britain definitely are not. Instead they are mostly nonbelievers paid $60 a pop to rate churches in Britain on everything from sermon length to after-service refreshments.
For decades, businesses have used “mystery shoppers,” researchers dispatched to retail stores to pose as consumers, to evaluate customer service and quality control. Now, churches are turning to “mystery worshippers” to visit and rate their performance. The program was launched in November by Christian Research of London and expands this month before reaching nationwide in May.
Religious experts agree that the research could be beneficial for any church seeking to understand how to best draw and keep worshippers in an age of declining attendance. “Any self-respecting organization is, or should be, alert to useful criticism of its modus operandi,” said Sam Berry, an expert on religion at University College London.
“I would regard the mystery-worshipper approach in the same way I would hotels asking people to fill in a form about their experiences at the hotel.”
Attendance at Anglican church services has dropped by 50 percent in 40 years as Britain has grown increasingly secular. (From the Toledo Blade)
Well, I think they might be on to something. The question that comes from this is simple: What are we showing to these mystery shoppers who visit the worship? A popular American preacher recently posted 12 convictions his congregation has about worship. On the one hand the author of the 12 convictions writes:
10. A service geared toward non-believers is meant to supplement personal evangelism, not replace it.
Then, on the other hand he writes:
4. While unbelievers can’t worship, they can watch believers worship.
I’m not sure how the two work together. In other words, why design a worship service that is geared towards non-believers when unbelievers cannot worship? It seems rather self-defeating. Nevertheless, I agree with the second part of the second proposition. I don’t know that unbelievers cannot worship, but I do agree that they can watch believers worship. So, what do we show to those unbelievers who are at least watching what us believers do? What should those mystery worshipers see in our worship time—at least the worship time we participate in on Sunday mornings?
I’d like to develop briefly a couple of ideas from chapter 10 and then show the full expression of what this means from chapters 10-11.
Warnings From Israel’s History: Chapter 10 in context
The apostle scans the history of Israel—mostly wilderness wanderings recorded in the book of Numbers, but also Exodus—and says flat out, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did…These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” We are meant to learn, but what? What did the apostle say: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people would sit down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.’” He then tells how much of the worship during that time was corrupt: pagan revelry, sexual immorality, grumbling.
The problem is, essentially, that they did not recognize ‘Christ among them.’ Paul wrote, “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all at the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that Rock was Christ.” His point is that they acted and worshiped as if God were not among them. So they mimicked and aped the culture, participated in the activities of pagans, and in general displeased the Lord among them. There was, and I think this is key here, there was nothing distinctive about what Israel was doing. As the rules were given to them by God through Moses the point of the rules was to set them apart for God’s service; they were to be a kingdom of priests leading the nations in worship of God. That is why they were to be distinct, different. That’s why they had funny rules to follow, and strange rituals to observe.
As silly and strange as they seemed to Israel, and as unique as they were in that culture, they marked those people as God’s people and declared things about the nature of the God to whom they belonged.
Truth be told it is not any different for the Church, the New Israel. We are a distinctive people, a unique people, who follow a strange God so to speak who has called us, Peter wrote, “like living stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…[We are] a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” We are not the culture. We are not just anybody. We are somebody, uniquely belonging to the Father. As such our worship is meant and designed to reflect God’s will, God’s message, and significantly, God’s Messiah. What we do we do for His Glory Alone: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Even outside of this specific context, this verse is applicable. He will apply this specifically to the observation of the Lord’s Supper and demonstrate that it is the Lord’s Supper and we dare not presume that it is our supper.
So Paul tells us all these things and says: Don’t follow their example. He notes that when Israel behaved this way ‘God scattered them in the desert,’ and ‘in one day 23,000 of them died,’ and some ‘were killed by snakes,’ and some were ‘killed by the destroying angel.’ However, he also notes that in the Christian context it is no less dangerous to fall into the hands of the living God: ‘For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement unto himself. That is why many of you are weak and sick, and a number of you have come under judgment. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.’ In short, God deals with His people differently than he does the world in general. And if Israel’s complacency about worship brought judgment, then how much more will judgment fall on the Church and the Christian who is complacent about worship?
Observations Concerning Christian Worship: Chapters 10-11
Now, with this background in mind, I will make a few quick observations about chapters 10-11 and Christian worship.
First, Christian worship must not be allowed to degenerate in pagan revelry and idolatry which is, at its worst and fullest expression, little more than demon worship. “God is faithful: He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” We often quote this during really bad times in our lives. But examining the context reveals something else about it: There will be times when we are tempted to allow our worship to follow the prevailing cultural habits. That is, we will be tempted to be less than the unique people that God fully intends for us to be. He will provide a way out says the apostle; therefore, Flee Idolatry! Run away fast.
Even the apostle John warned that Christians can be lured into to the worship of idols concluding his first epistle with the words: My Children, keep yourself from idols. Craig Blomberg keenly notes, “Contemporary idolatries infiltrate the church as well as the world, as large numbers of Christians buy into each of the latest secular fads for church growth, fund-raising, marketing and so on….”—198 There is no room in the Church for the sort of worship that is nothing more than idol worship.
Second, Christian Worship must always keep a proper focus on the only True Object of Worship which is Christ Jesus. If worship is allowed to degenerate, if we succumb to the temptation to worship idols, then we are no longer worshiping Messiah, but making mockery of his sacrifice. “Is not the cup for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Messiah? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the Body of Messiah?…You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” We must not be double-minded when we worship or when we live. What I mean is this: It seems rather impossible to imagine spending the week participating with the demons of this world and then trying once a week to participate in the cup of the Lord. So I don’t think Paul here is talking only about Sunday worship. What is troubling is that we perhaps do not consider well enough, or enough, who it is that we belong to, let alone who we are worshiping.
I think he fully means that as Christians we have to make up our minds once and for all that we will belong to one or the other and there is no room for holding hands with both. The Lord demands that we keep in mind that we partake of the sacrifice of Messiah when we worship with the cup and loaf. As such, he writes that those who eat and drink in an unworthy manner will be judged: Many are sick; many have fallen asleep. Consider well he is saying the true nature of the object of our worship: The Lamb is the Lion! If he spared not Israel, will he any less spare us? We must bear in mind, then, at all times, the object of our worship. We can’t have it one way one day and the other way the next. We always belong to Christ; our worship is always a participation in His sacrifice. We cannot worship the devil 6 days a week and Jesus on Sundays. It simply cannot work that way; it will not work that way.
Third, Christian worship must always be done in such a way that is bringing Glory to God. I have said in previous sermons that our worship must be pleasing to God first and I will make this point also in the conclusion so I won’t spend much time here except to repeat what the apostle wrote, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God….I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they will be saved.” In other words, if we do things such as worship having the mind to please God first and bring glory to His Name first, then it seems likely that we will not cause others to stumble.
Fourth, Christian worship must always be done in such a way that it is free from and of distractions. There is a lot of debate, evidently, about what exactly the application is of these verses in chapter 11:1-16; the debate is, for the most part, a distraction and beside the point. These verses are unpopular in some circles because people think Paul is advocating a misogynist view that suppresses the freedom of women and elevates the importance of men. To be sure, in our culture, head coverings are relatively meaningless.
So how do we apply these verses? Well, for one thing, these verses are not advocating the absolute silence of women in worship. Paul writes, “And every woman who prays or prophesies…” This signifies, at minimum, that women were doing these things. He’s not advocating they stop, just that they do so in such a way that demonstrates a proper relationship between between what they are doing and why they are doing it. In the case of the Corinthians, a woman ought to cover her head. I wonder how a woman in our culture is to demonstrate the proper relationship between what she is doing and why she is doing it? How is submission to the Lord demonstrated by women and men in our culture?
David Prior wrote: “Now this fundamental order of relationships, writes Paul, is to be clearly reflected in Christian worship. It is important what people look like in public worship. There must be no distractions. In Christian worship we are demonstrating openly the essence of what God has done in Christ: He has set us free to serve him and to worship him. This freedom must be visible demonstrated.”—181 (my emphasis) In our culture we might say something like, “It is inappropriate for a woman to pray for prophesy in the church if she is dressed like a prostitute, bearing cleavage, and wearing a skirt to short, or a see-through blouse.” I remember a professor in college telling of a time when he was preaching and a woman came into the worship, sat in the front row and breast fed a baby. This might be considered inappropriate.
But it is not just women who have to behave in the worship in a particularly un-distracting manner. “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him…” or “A man ought not to cover his head.” In other words, neither men nor women should enter worship or participate in worship in such a way that is a distraction. That means, we should not, neither men nor women, do things that flout authority, or draw attention to ourselves. Worship is about God and it is terribly difficult to focus our attention on God the Holy Redeemer when even the manner of our dress is a distraction to those around us. We ought to dress, behave and act in such a way that demonstrates our submission to the Lord: Whose image we reflect. We worship to draw attention to Jesus Messiah, not to ourselves.
Fifth, Christian Worship is always a proclamation of The Messiah who gave His life for us. Our worship must preserve the purity of the message of the Gospel. This must be true at all costs. So we come back to the beginning where it was said that ‘unbelievers cannot worship, but they can watch believers worship.’ I partially disagree with the first statement, but the second statement I wholly agree with because, in fact, they do watch Christians worship. Paul will write in chapter 14: “If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? You may well be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.” And also, “But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. SO he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’”
So we must be careful because people are watching and we have to be certain that what they see they can understand, but even more that what they see is the correct message; that is, what does God want them to see? If we worship in such a way that is distracting, or pagan, bringing attention to the self, or double-minded, then we are sending a decidedly wrong message. So Paul takes the least example: The common meal, the Lord’s Supper, communion. I know how special this time is, how holy, how sanctified, but at its core it is a meal—it is a remembrance of the Passover Lamb who is Christ, Paul wrote. He says, even something as simple as a meal that we share—and I’m contending that their communion observations were nothing like what we do—is to be a proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Paul is talking about a meal. And our attitude about worship in General will be seen in the way we approach and practice one of the simplest forms of worship we observe: The Common meal, communion. If we cannot even eat in such a way that brings honor and worship and reverence to the Name of Jesus, then how can we expect to do everything we do to the glory of the Father?
This common meal—we fancy it up with words like ‘Lord’s Supper’ or ‘Holy Communion’ or ‘sacrament’ or ‘eucharist’; and it is—but the common meal is first a proclamationabout Jesus Christ’s death. Prior wrote: “Whatever the nature of their source, these words are to determine the whole meaning, atmosphere and behavior in any celebration of the Lord’s supper. It is pre-eminently the death of the Lord which must dominate the proceedings, and this was clearly not the case at Corinth.”—188 We are right to ask if it is the case in our worship.
It is to be perpetual, ‘until he comes.’ Until he comes we are to proclaim this message. We are not to stop proclaiming the Body and Blood of Christ until he comes. If we eat in a manner that is unworthy of the Lord, do you think people will think for a minute that we have any respect whatsoever for what Messiah has done at Calvary? Oh, no! We must approach the table of the Lord with more self-examination than this! What we do around the table is a proclamation, but it is also a preparation for what goes on the rest of our lives. If we cannot be respectful around the table of which the Lord himself is host, then how can anything we do, at any other time in our lives, be a worthy proclamation of the Crucified Lord?
Worship, seen here in the simple common meal, is a proclamation of the Gospel. IF the common meal is a proclamation, then how much more our preaching, our singing, our giving, our serving, our working, our talking, our recreating, our everything? Whatever you do, do it to the Glory of the Lord.
I wonder if we treat worship so complacently that we have at times invited the Lord’s judgment upon ourselves? Do we consider that the Lord still disciplines His children? How worthy has our proclamation of Christ’s death actually been?
This short highlight from the life of Jesus is recorded in Matthew 4:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
” ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
At its core, idolatry is devil worship. And the temptation is always to worship someone other than the Lord God. It makes little difference what the idol is. The essence of these temptations is that the devil was offering Jesus a way to avoid the Cross. But Jesus refused to do anything that detracted from the Glory of God; avoiding the cross would have done more than simply detract from God’s glory; it would have destroyed God’s credibility. The essence of idolatry is when we set our hearts on other ways, evil things. The essence of idolatry is the exaltation of the self or the exaltation of our appetites. My friend Dave says this is what gluttony is: The exaltation of the appetite. I say this is the essence of idolatry: When anything is exalted above God.
In worship, we are not afforded an alternative to the cross either. If we choose to avoid the cross, then we are bowing to the devil. Leon Morris wrote, “The devils make use of men’s readiness to worship idols.” Do you think the devil idly sits by while we craft God’s in our own image? No, he’s counting on it and providing every opportunity he can for our idols to take on reality. He’s just waiting for an opportunity to give life to our dead idols. He traps us so easily—providing opportunities for our idols to be worshipped—however innocently—and to replace or dethrone the Righteous and Holy God who Redeemed us. The devil goes away, but only to wait until an opportune time.
This is why we have no boast but in the Cross. This is why Paul resolved among the Corinthians to proclaim nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. This is why even our common meal is to be a celebration of the Broken Body and Shed Blood of the Crucified Lord. The Cross is to dominate our worship. I have tried to find a way around it, but I cannot. I simply cannot see any other way for the Church or the Christian to be defined. If we are not a people a people of the Cross then we are nothing. And when we worship what we hope for people to see is the Crucified One, the Lord Jesus Himself, who, when he is lifted up, will draw all people to himself.
This is why worship is a proclamation: A Preaching of the Cross. This is why even the simplest thing we can do, breaking bread and drinking the cup, is also one of the holiest things we do: Because it is a participation in the sacrifice of Messiah, because it is a proclamation of the sacrifice of Messiah, because it is a Remembrance of the sacrifice of Messiah. There is nothing holier than the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Messiah.
And these things we dare not take lightly. People are watching. What are we telling them when we worship? What are we proclaiming? Is it any wonder that the Lord Himself doesn’t take such things light?
Soli Deo Gloria!